Website, film earn legal history award

Images of O Say Can You See and Anna

calendar icon December 4, 2019

The online archive “O Say Can You See: Early Washington, D.C., Law & Family” and the film Anna received the Mary Dudziak Prize for Digital Legal History from the American Society for Legal History. The annual prize, named for scholar and digital history pioneer Mary L. Dudziak, recognizes excellence in digital legal history.

The archive is a collection and analysis of freedom suits filed between 1800 and 1862 in Washington, D.C. It also traces the multigenerational family networks the freedom suits reveal. Located at earlywashingtondc.org, the archive was developed by a digital humanities team in the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities, led by historian Will Thomas.

 “[The project] does more than merely put content online that could be digested in print form,” the ASLH wrote. “[They] modeled more than 55,000 relationships between the participants in these cases. They also included engaging essays by legal historians about these sources and the broader historical context.”

Anna was recognized for its production value and wide use in secondary schools—it was developed using information from the archive. Thomas, the John and Catherine Chair in the Humanities, collaborated with Husker colleagues Kwakiutl Dreher and Michael Burton to produce the film.

The ASLH has fostered interdisciplinary scholarship and teaching in legal history since 1956. This is the first year the award has been given.

“Overall, we were impressed by how this project harnessed the power of new media to excite the imaginations of current and future legal historians.”